Vidyavihar (Abode of Education in Marathi Vidya means Knowledge and Vihar means place or location) is named after the Somaiya Vidyavihar campus, one of the largest education campuses in Mumbai and a landmark. The railway station was established to facilitate travel for students of Somaiya Vidyavihar. Vidyavihar station is about 2 km from Kurla Terminus, and an easy transfer point (however, it does not have a connecting railway).
In the 1960s and 1970s, the Railways lost their land on both sides of the Vidyavihar station tracks due to the illegal encroachments along both the suburban lines. A vast stretch of their land on the eastern side of Vidyavihar Station was in a vulnerable state waiting to be encroached. The Railways came up with a plan to save this land from encroachment by utilizing it. The railway administration divided this stretch into 2 parts. On the first part they constructed a hostel for their technical apprentices and several railway quarters for their staff. This hostel has been demolished as two additional rail tracks are being laid.
The second stretch was developed into a plant nursery. A small rivulet (called the nullah) ran right through this stretch of land. It was decided to convert the remaining portion of the land into a plant nursery, which takes advantage of the water supply from the rivulet. The work on this nursery commenced some time in the mid-1980s. As of 2008, the Nursery was a vast green and symmetrical expanse. The smaller plants are sent regularly in pots to the administrative offices of the railway stations on the Central Railway for aesthetic purposes. The nursery might give way to setting up of two additional rail tracks.
Geographically, the area around the Vidyavihar railway station can be divided into 2 parts namely
- Rajawadi on the eastern side
- Kirol on the western side
Rajawadi is located on the eastern side of Vidyavihar railway station which came into existence in 1963. Before that, the nearest station was Ghatkopar which was 20 minutes walking distance from Rajawadi. In the early 1950s till the early 1960s the main mode of transport to Rajawadi was Tongas and Taxis (available in few numbers at Ghatkopar railway station). Bus No 381 from Ghatkopar to Refineries ( Chembur ) was also available which halted at Rajawadi bus stop at Ghatkopar Mahul Road. Somaiya College ( set up by the K J Somaiya Trust in the early 1960s) was a major step in giving recognizion to Rajawadi / Vidyavihar as a major education centre which it is today. The other most famous landmark is the Rajawadi Municipal General Hospital. The green and well maintained Rajawadi Municipal Garden is close by.
Rajawadi was a quiet and sleepy place in the 1920s and '30s. Havelis (Mansions) built by rich Gujarati families who moved from the Island City dotted the landscape. There were also the residential complexes built by the Bhatia philanthropists for the members of their community. The Big Stable (In common parlance referred to as 'Tabela ') which exists till today at the junction of the road leading from MG Road, an arterial road of the suburb, to Vidyavihar station, was a dominating landmark. In fact, it could be one of the first structures to come up at Rajawadi.
Rajawadi then was located between the Municipal Hydraulic Pipe Line (supplying water to the island city from the lakes) and the main road, the present MG Road. The land between the pipe line and the railway line was a huge forest with mangroves, banyan trees and dense vegetation. Old timers talk of the area being inhabited by wild animals. The southern portion of this forest was bordered by a creek and beyond it was marshy land.
There was major change in the geography and topography in the 1940s. The thick mangroves in between the pipeline and railway lines were cleared to make way for the construction of residential houses for Government servants who were displaced due to the partition. Thus was born the Rajawadi Government Housing Colony (now called Chittaranjan Nagar). Although the Colony was planned for the Government Servants displaced by partition, subsequently a policy decision was taken by the Housing Board to make allotments of houses to the Lower Income Group, as well. Thus the colony was cosmopolitan in nature. It had Maharashtrian, Sindhi, Tamil, Manglorean, Gujarati, Malayalee & Punjabi families, to name a few. This colony formed a sizeable chunk of the Rajawadi's population. This colony in a way represented the true cosmopolitan nature of Bombay ( now Mumbai ). The bread winners of most of these families were white collar employees in govt as well as private companies earning moderate income and leading lower middle class life style. But a large majority of them were educated, mostly matriculates which at that time was a decent educational qualification.
The 1950s and the early 1960s saw further major changes in Rajawadi. The available open space was gradually taken up for development of buildings with flats ( then popularly known as the Block system) . They were mainly inhabited by Gujarati famililes who moved in from the Island city. In fact, Ghatkopar was to all appearances an extension of Bhuleshwar and Khetwadi, then the predominant Gujarati localities in the island city. The narrow main road, then called the Ghatkopar-Mahul Road, was broadened & two BEST routes were introduced. A new post office was allotted to Rajawadi (pin code Bombay 77). In a way, the process of opening up Rajawadi had commenced.
The Housing Board also constructed a colony beyond the southern end of the Government Housing colony which is now popularly known as D Colony. At this stage Rajawadi could be termed as a typical suburban middle class locality, maintaining a small town charm with folks familiar with each other.
During this period, two major developments contributed towards the further growth of Rajawadi. The Rajawadi Municipal Maternity hospital was set up around the late 1950s. It was patronised by residents from as far as Bhandup and Trombay. Gradually new departments were added to the hospital and by 1976 it became the biggest Municipal hospital in the eastern suburbs of Mumbai. Post-graduate medical students are allotted posts here. The Seth VC Gandhi & MA Vora Municipal General Hospital popularly known as Rajawadi Hospital, is attached to a morgue and covers the area between Kurla and Mulund.
The second major development was the setting up of Somaiya Vidyavihar in 1960. As mentioned earlier, Vidyavihar station came up for the benefit of students attending colleges in Somaiya Vidyavihar. What started as an Arts and Science college is now a major educational institution in the country offering courses in virtually every stream.
The last major development which brought about a change in Rajawadi's demography and topography took place in the 1970s and continued till the mid-1980s. The drought which affected Maharashtra in the early 1970s saw a major influx of migrants into Bombay. There was also the migration of populace in search of jobs from other parts of India. There was an acute need for shelter for the new entrants to the city. The pressure was so intense that small houses came up in most of the open plots in the suburbs of Bombay belonging to the Collectorate, Bombay Municipal Corporation and in certain cases to individuals & private institutions. Rajawadi was also affected by this development. Houses came up on the creek bordering Rajawadi on the southern side & the area was named Shastri Nagar. Similar dwellings came up along the Hydraulic Pipe Line and the canal (popularly called the nullah) leading up to the creek and these areas were named, amongst others, Bhim Nagar, Mohan Nagar and Laxman Nagar.
The later part of the 1980s also saw the development of an upmarket residential complex adjacent to the Somaiya Campus, Neelkanth Valley. Comprising tall buildings with a swimming pool, garden and jogging track, it attracted upper-middle-class families. This new push was again mainly from the island city. Rajawadi now transformed to an affluent area with the setting up of myriad shops including jewellery shops (most are clustered near Rajawadi Naka on MG Road). Enterprising jewellers like Bharati Jewellers started the trend. Others followed and Rajawadi got the tag ' The Zaveri Bazar of the suburbs', Zaveri Bazar being the jewellery district of Mumbai. Of late, leading jewellers in Mumbai like Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri andWaman Hari Pethe have set up shop here.
Near Shastri Nagar . a residential complex for the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) of India was set up in the 1980s. It predominantly houses engineers & senior professionals employed with ONGC.
In the late 1990s there was a boom in software education in the area. Satyam Complex had at one point in time more than 6 institutes like NIIT, Aptech, Lakotia computer, CCIT, German institute, even a computer droom. There were many small-time software training classes as well. The shopping center Satyam Complex became famous as a hub for training and many coaching classes operate from there.
The suburb also has a large number of banks. This is because a major population in this area comprises Gujarati businessmen. This section of the populace have their business in Masjid Bandhar and other business districts. But they prefer to have their banking done nearer to their residence since most of them prefer to leave for their office after lunch which is around 11 am. The oldest bank in the area is the State Bank of India on M.G.Road. The other nationalised banks who have their branches in Rajawadi are the Andhra Bank and Bank of Baroda. The last named branch has a huge customer base and it operates on weekdays from 8 a.m to 8 p.m. To add the private touch we have an IDBI, Kotak Mahindra Bank & Centurion Bank Of Punjab branch at Rajawadi Naka. The Shamrao Vithal Co-operative Bank has its branch at Rajawadi Naka and The Bhawani Sahakari Co-opeartive Bank has its presence opposite the Sanyas Ashram.
The oldest temples in Rajawadi are the Hanuman and Shiva Temple. The Hanuman Temple has gone through a major renovation. In the good old days it has a rural charm with a huge tree in the backyard. The Shiva temple which is located diagonally opposite to the Hanuman temple still maintains the old charm with its huge courtyard.
The Sanyas Ashram located near the Rajawadi Garden is an old establishment. As the name suggests, it is a transit point for the Sanyasis (the Hindu monks) and has the idols of all the major Gods and Goddesses. But the Ashram has acquired importance as a congregaration point for the devotees. A large number of devotees attend The daily satsangs( discources) and the evening aarti ( a ritual in which light from wicks is offered to the deities).
This important landmark stands strategically at the junction of the MG Road and the road leading to Vidyavihar station on the Eastern side. This colony came in the early '50s under to house the refugees from Sind after the partition. Although one could not compare it to other camps located at Antop Hill or Chembur in terms of size, the characteristics were similar. A close knit group, community-minded, tenacious and above all industrious. Today, the small colony comprises the second and third generation residents who are either well established professionals or successful businessmen. A community which is proud of the humble beginnings. This can be seen from the well preserved arch with the words "Sindhu Wadi" and a big clock always ticking away.
As mentioned earlier an upmarket residential complex Neelkanth Valley came up near the Somaiya campus in the mid '90s. This was the first concept in Mumbai Which was developed by Shri Mohan Patel son of Shri Velji Harkha Patel formerly M/s Velji Harkha Patel & Sons Group now known as Neelkanth Group. It is one of the more affluent societies north of Sion and boasts of impressive buildings with good quality construction. It could be said that Vidyavihar has gained prominence due to this project.
Rajawadi garden is the first municipal garden in it is a place which morning walkers have been using since a pretty long time. It also has its own laughing club and senior citizens club meet at the center of the garden (near the fountain). The play equipment is not much to boast about but is reasonable for children between the ages of 3 to 12 years and is a favourite haunt in the evening. There is a Balkan-Ji-Bari located just near the garden that carries out programmes for children throughout the year.
Rajawadi has two schools adjacent to each other.
a)The Rajawadi Municipal School is one of the oldest schools in the Eastern Suburbs. The school was previously located in Chittaranjan Nagar and had only the Primary section.
b) R,N,Gandhi High School : Founded in the mid 60's. The school was originally called Ghatkopar English School.
Vidyavihar station was originally named after the East Indian Village of Kirol near which it lay. Because Of the Large number of Educational Institutes that developed on its eastern side, the railways changed the name of the station to Vidyavihar in 1962. The members of the East Indian community were among original inhabitants of the Salsette Island.
The Our Lady of Fatima Church essentially forms the main point servicing the parishioners residing at Kirol Village and the nearby areas. The Fatima High School was established by the Capuchin priests around 1955. It is now one of the largest pre-college institution in Mumbai. Spread over a vast area, it possesses one of the best playgrounds in Mumbai. The school encourages sporting activities in a big way and has produced some outstanding Basketball players.
The agricultural land gave away to industries that came up at a good pace in the 1950s. Companies like Sterlite Industries, Nathani Steel, Mac Laboratories and Acme, set up the manufacturing base here.
The Material Organisation, Mumbai, the premier Naval Store Depot of the Indian Navy is another landmark at Kirol. The staff entry gate is walking distance from Vidyavihar station. Starting from the border of Fatima High School, the huge southern wall of the depot runs for almost a kilometre. The main entrance of the depot is on the LBS Marg on its northern side.
The Jolly Gymkhana which has all the amenities is located opposite the Fatima High School. The Club started off in a humble manner in the early 60's and had a card room, basketball court and a table tennis section. But it had a good playground with a cricket pitch. The highlight every year would be the inter-school cricket tournament conducted by the Lions Club. It was a very competitive tournament between the leading schools in Ghatkopar. It evoked a lot of interest and the matches attracted thousands of spectators. The Gymkhana had a good cricket team which participated in the Kanga League. The inter-school and other cricket tournaments were discontinued at the Jolly Gymkhana around the 1980s. In the mid 90's or so the Gymkhana underwent a major facelift. The old clubhouse was demolished and a new imposing structure overlooking the lush green cricket grounds was built. Keeping with times a large bar, pool room, Swimming pool and a hall used for special occasions were constructed. The new Card room continues be the hub for the old members.
The BEST bus depot located on the western side of the railway station provides feeder services as well as alternate travel routes to other suburbs of Mumbai.
The Kirol village has acquired a cosmopolitan nature as it has opened up to newcomers. The village which was the focal point is slowly losing its old rustic charm due to major development of plush residential complexes.